Iris Feinberg is a Wexner Heritage alumna from Atlanta. Iris is a community volunteer and business person in Atlanta and can be reached at

For the last 25 years, I have raised a family, run a business, been involved in my community, and pursued hobbies and interests with great passion. I have had the privilege of travelling around the world with family, friends and colleagues, and of sharing glorious moments of grandeur along with the abject horror of poverty and loss. And in all of these interactions, I have experienced the grace of those who teach every step of the way, the kind, patient, humble, generous, flexible people who give of themselves to others in meaningful and impactful ways. One of the most important lessons I have learned from them is what it really takes to be confident and competent in today’s world – the ability to use information in order to communicate fully and to express opinions, ideas, make decisions, solve problems, and fully contribute to the development of both individual and society.

Successful learners master this ideological context of literacy – the idea that reading and writing are only the means to this end. Successful teachers communicate the importance of values and meaning through a love of learning, and, through these lessons, enable others to achieve their goals, develop knowledge, reach their potential, and participate fully and confidently in their community. They are two sides of the same coin, each having a fundamental set of skills, knowledge and responsibility that must be maximized together in order to reach this highest level of literacy.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this idea of literacy. Our tradition talks a lot about teaching and learning – Adam and Eve learning their lesson in the Garden of Eden, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments to share God’s teaching with the Israelites, Yochanan ben Zakkai establishing Yavneh which was the first real portable Jewish center of learning and made learning not tied to any one place. The desire for knowledge is part of our human and cultural DNA – the ability to absorb that knowledge, however, is not always simple or complete.

The world is full of great teachers and inquisitive students. Each of us has the ability to be both and either. But more than just desire is necessary to really accomplish true literacy. I’ve done a lot of teaching and training in my life, as well as raised 4 kids, but when I tried to get up and teach a class of 4th graders for a Junior Achievement program, I was shocked at what I didn’t know. There is a whole universe out there of current literature, science and knowledge in child growth and development, teaching methodologies, the latest research from many other disciplines including sociology, neuroscience, and of course, education.

As I begin to think about what my next career will be (I laughingly call it “Chapter Two”), I wonder what I can do to have an impact on literacy. I’ve been researching programs like “Reading is Fundamental” and “Americorps” but not finding that they have yet had a significant impact on literacy. Some of the programs that the Atlanta community funds in our partnership cities of Yokneam/Megiddo in Israel deal with Ethiopian children at risk and affect literacy levels – they are beginning to show results in small, meaningful ways, but the data won’t really be available for years to come. I suppose that in some ways, teaching literacy is communal, but in other ways it is deeply personal and intimate. Most of all, it is long term learning, and requires patience and tenacity to accomplish and to measure. 

Every person deserves the opportunity to become truly literate. Every person deserves the opportunity to use their multiple forms of intelligence and individual learning styles, and to be respected as an individual with unique learning qualities. True literacy is more than just reading and writing – it is cultural, visual, creative, numbers-based, electronic, and information based. Successfully attaining a high literacy level creates confidence born from competence, and leads a person to become a valued and valuable contributor to society. It is a gift of immeasurable importance that we each have the ability to give and to receive.